Archive for January, 2012

Album of the week 04-2012: Soundgarden – Live On I-5

Chris Cornell’s solo acoustic live album – that’s a lot of adjectives to describe an album type – released earlier this week made me long for Soundgarden again. And so I put on ‘Live On I-5’ in addition to ‘Songbook’. This live album was released last year, shortly after the band’s reformation, but features recordings from the last tour before the split. And let’s face it; it’s never torture to listen to something Chris Cornell sings on. Hold on, I’m taking that back. ‘Scream’ was. This honest live document, however, is a pleasant listen.

Initially, I was slightly disappointed by some of the performances of the songs, thinking they weren’t as powerful as the studio versions. Apparently I have been brainwashed by all the overdubbed live recordings over the years. Mind you, I am not against studio overdubbing on live albums if it enhances the quality, but the true power of this album lies in its rawness. Not every note Cornell sings is pitch-perfect and the guitar interplay between Cornell and the chronically underestimated Kim Thayil has a certain looseness to it. Also, this album doesn’t have the explosive production that my favorite Soundgarden album ‘Badmotorfinger’ does have. But once I got used to all these things, it quickly became the Soundgarden album I spin most – apart from ‘Badmotorfinger’ of course.

‘Live On I-5’ comprises from performances from six different shows in the US in 1996, by far most of them recorded in Del Mar. The recordings I like best, however, are taken from a show in Oakland, including the frenzied version of ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ (just listen to Matt Cameron butchering his drum kit!) that closes the album. One of the songs was recorded outside of the US; the sped-up version of ‘Rusty Cage’ is from Vancouver. Most of the material is taken from the band’s last three albums ‘Badmotorfinger’, ‘Superunknown’ and ‘Down On The Upside’, but they cover The Beatles (a delightfully unrecognizable ‘Helter Skelter’) and The Stooges (a simply fantastic rendition of ‘Search And Destroy’) too.

The main virtue of ‘Live On I-5’ is that it reminds every listener of what a brilliant and unique band Soundgarden was. There’s a lot of variation among the material included, still it’s unmistakably Soundgarden. From the Black Sabbath sludge of my favorite song ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’ to the Punk aggression of ‘Ty Cobb’, from the effective rocking of ‘Outshined’ to the reflective mood of ‘Fell On Black Days’, often drenched in a Led Zeppelin-esque sense of limited psychedelia and a stubborn aversion against conventional time signatures and song structures, it’s still all instantly recognizable. And the finishing touch is, as always, Chris Cornell’s voice with its enormous range, expression and power.

As a side note, try and get a hold of the special 10 inch EP ‘Before The Doors’, which is basically a companion piece to ‘Live On I-5′. It contains recordings of soundchecks from the same tour, including a killer version of The Doors’ ‘Waiting For The Sun’. And if you still haven’t had enough after all of that, be sure to check out Chris Cornell’s ‘Songbook’. His acoustic version of ‘Black Hole Sun’ on that record isn’t all that different from the one included on ‘Live On I-5’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Search And Destroy’

Best of 2011: The DVD’s

As promised, I would give you a list of my favorite DVD’s released in 2011 as well. It was a lot easier for me to assemble a list of DVD’s I thoroughly enjoyed than with the albums, which is strange, considering that every album in the list deserves to be there. These DVD’s were way ahead of the pack, by which I mean that 2011 wasn’t necessarily a good year for music DVD’s, but the ones that were there are of incredible quality, starting with one in particular:

1. Orphaned Land – The Road To OR-Shalem

Orphaned Land is easily the best Metal band around these days. If you didn’t believe me yet, ‘The Road To OR-Shalem’ is the ultimate proof. Their mixture of Doom Metal, Prog Rock/Metal, traditional Middle-Eastern music and bits of Death Metal may sound difficult to replicate live, but their hypnotic brand of brilliant music translates well to the concert hall. In fact, the songs sound even better and more powerful live. Especially the songs from ‘Mabool’ have so much more power in these renditions. This DVD offers a full show in the band’s home country of Israel with stunning sound and picture quality and – for a change – bonus features that are every bit as enjoyable as the main feature. In fact, there’s a couple of extra songs from the same show in Tel Aviv, including a few with Israeli Rocker Yehuda Poliker. Brilliant, stunning and moving. Obligatory for anyone who appreciates music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ocean Land’, ‘From Broken Vessels’, ‘Olat Ha’tamid’, ‘Sapari’, ‘The Path – Treading Through Darkness’, ‘Bakapaim’

2. Slash – Made In Stoke 24/7/11

“Oooh, which songs from Slash’s past are on here? ‘Nightrain’! Awesome! I’ll take it with me!” And that was before I even realized that the downright amazing Myles Kennedy – the first great rock singer since the Eddie Vedder/Chris Cornell generation – sung on the record and there was a whole brand of other amazing songs on the album, including those Slash recorded in his post-G’n’R era. The image and sound quality are perfect, Slash, Myles and the band are simply on fire and the setlist is nearly perfect. Also, Myles Kennedy does almost all of the songs better than the original vocalists. Reading in the booklet that this lineup will be the one that Slash will be recording his new album with made me very enthusiastic about the future. Until then, I’ll enjoy the hell out of this live release.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rocket Queen’, ‘Nightrain’, ‘Civil War’, ‘Promise’, ‘Slither’, ‘Nothing To Say’

3. Black Country Communion – Live Over Europe

One of the very few supergroups even worthy of the title, Black Country Communion creates an organic British seventies Rock sound located somewhere between Deep Purple (singer/bassist Glenn Hughes’ former band), Led Zeppelin (drummer Jason Bonham’s father’s band) and Bad Company (no relation to one of the band members). One of the reasons why this band works so well is that Hughes is the obvious leader and star of the band. His vocals and often overlooked, but top quality bass playing are all over this disc, maybe even moreso than Joe Bonamassa’s tasteful guitar work. But what’s even more important is that the songs that were written for this band are well-written and free of any form of pretention. The interviews between the songs are a bit of an annoying factor, but not so much that it ruins the watching and listening pleasure of this great Rock DVD. This group is actually super, you know?

Recommended tracks: ‘One Last Soul’, ‘The Outsider’, ‘Faithless’, ‘Cold’

4. Europe – Live! At Shepherd’s Bush, London

Anyone calling Europe a poser band, based on the big hair they had in the eighties, just doesn’t get it. Since the band’s reunion early this century, they have released three consistently good Led Zeppelin influenced Rock albums. This DVD, obviously, focuses a bit more on their newer material than the 2004 release ‘Live From The Dark’ and does well by that, because this is material worth hearing. Different from Europe’s heyday in the eighties, but still easily recognizable as Europe and at least every bit as good. In fact, for me, some of the glossy eighties hits distract from the powerful Bluesy Rockers of the now. Joey Tempest adjusted his vocals to his current range perfectly, John Norum has an amazing amount of Bluesy Soul in his guitar playing and this is obviously a band that learned to play together. Set your inhibitions aside and give this band a fair chance, you won’t regret it.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Beast’, ‘Last Look At Eden’, ‘The Getaway Plan’, ‘Start From The Dark’, ‘Scream Of Anger’

5. Bad Company – Live At Wembley

Even better than their first live DVD with Paul Rodgers, Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke reunited, ‘Live At Wembley’ shows us a band that is so experienced and comfortable with each other, that not enjoying this is no option. Lynn Sorenson from Paul Rodgers’ solo band is an excellent replacement for the amazing, but sadly deceased Boz Burrell and adding former Heart guitarist Howard Leese – also in Rodgers’ solo band – as a second guitarist is an excellent choice. Bad Company obviously does what they do best here, which is giving the audience first class Blues drenched seventies Rock. I really don’t see how Rodgers – in his early sixties – keeps improving and Kirke and Ralphs are the only right musicians for these songs. This DVD is nothing fancy, just really, really good music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ready For Love’, ‘Bad Company’, ‘Run With The Pack’, ‘Honey Child’, ‘Seagull’

6. The Answer – 412 Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll

One of the very few music DVD’s where the documentary is actually just as interesting as the actual live footage. They are, in fact, labelled as of equal importance as the live footage. I may have preferred one headlining show to be the main footage to the DVD, but in fact, the interesting thing is that this DVD is set up as a document of Northern Ireland’s The Answer’s year and a half of opening for AC/DC and as such, more than succeeds its purpose. Also, the video and audio quality are great, but not too polished. Exactly the way Rock ‘n’ Roll should be. And maybe the headlining DVD may come later, after their tour supporting their discography’s highlight ‘Revival’, which came out shortly after this DVD. And how many bands can say that they have had two killer releases in one year? Exactly!

Recommended tracks: ‘Too Far Gone’, ‘Demon Eyes’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw’, ‘Tonight’

7. Loudness – World Circuit 2010

Just apart from the music… Probably it has to do with them being from Japan, but any DVD Loudness puts out (and there have been a lot of them these last few years) are of such crisp and clear picture quality that it almost devaluates any other DVD you own. Musically there’s nothing to complain about either. On the first DVD especially. As always lead by guitar wizard Akira Takasaki, the band rips through a number of killer renditions of classic Loudness tracks and more recent headbangers. New drummer Masayuki Suzuki is mind blowing as well, no disrespect to the late Munetaka Higuchi. Just check out how he blasts into ‘King Of Pain’ from the drum solo. Simply amazing. Due to health reasons, I had to miss out on them during the European tour represented by two shows on the second DVD, but if I ever get the chance to see them again, I will. This is quality Metal and the best thing to ever come out of Japan since Mega Man X.

Recommended tracks: ‘In The Mirror’, ‘Hit The Rails’, ‘King Of Pain’, ‘Esper’

8. Mastodon – Live At The Aragon

The entire ‘Crack The Skye’ album played live, what’s not to like? Well, maybe the vocals, because they definitely aren’t up to par with the studio renditions of the songs (especially Brent Hinds’ could have been better), but the sheer quality of the music from Mastodon’s magnum opus makes up for a lot. They pull of the richly complex and layered psychedelia of their masterpiece with such ease that it seems almost impossible that this is only played by five guys; the band members and guest keyboard player Derek Mitchka. The psychedelic visuals displayed on stage truly enhance what you hear and you can even see them separately as a bonus feature. Also, check out the amazing twelve string fretwork of Hinds on some of the songs. And – I can’t emphasize this enough – Brann Dailor is probably the best Rock/Metal drummer in the world today and his performance on this DVD is once again proving that.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Last Baron’, ‘The Czar’, ‘Crack The Skye’, ‘Where Strides The Behemoth’

9. Billy Joel – Live At Shea Stadium: The Concert

Billy Joel’s piano playing and songwriting are something I will always have a weak spot for. Even though his vocal range is decreasing now he’s in his sixties, he still manages to put on quite a show. No matter what kind of music he tries his hand at or what size the venues are he does it at, he does it with a Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma. Even when it’s ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’. This closing ceremony of the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium is put to tape in an incredibly fine matter. Especially interesting are the guest appearances by Tony Bennett and Paul McCartney – whose Beatles played the first concert ever at Shea Stadium. Joel and his stellar backing band deliver some great renditions of his hits and a few nice covers. At the Pasman residence, this was one of the few acquisitions of last year that was there to enjoy for the whole family and it makes sense, being the versatile musical party that it is.

Recommended tracks: ‘The River Of Dreams /Hard Day’s Night’, ‘New York State Of Mind’, ‘My Life’, ‘Allentown’, ‘Piano Man’, ‘The Ballad Of Billy The Kid’

10. Foreigner – Rockin’ At The Ryman

Ladies and gentlemen: Kelly Hansen. Those could be the only two words needed to describe why you need to see and hear this. Many old school Foreigner fans are complaining about the absence of original singer Lou Gramm in this reunion lineup (which maybe isn’t a strict reunion, figuring that guitarist Mick Jones is the sole original member), but two things: Gramm’s range isn’t anywhere near what it used to be and Hansen is the front man he never was. And his voice has a warmth that just hits me. In addition, the rest of this Foreigner lineup is professionally representing these timeless Rock songs. Their professionality does however sacrifice a little spontaneous energy, with only Hansen and especially bassist Jeff Pilson being exceptions to that rule. An awesome setlist and a few bonus tracks they hardly play live (‘Night Life’!) make up for that. The quality production does the rest.

Recommended tracks: ‘Double Vision’, ‘Urgent’, ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’, ‘Cold As Ice’, ‘Blue Morning, Blue Day’

11. Iced Earth – Festivals Of The Wicked

As the connection between Iced Earth and myself goes way back, I still follow everything they do, despite them having had an offensively mediocre decade behind them. Last year worked out pretty well for them, however, as ‘Dystopia’, the first product released with new singer Stu Block, was an amazing album and ‘Festivals Of The Wicked’, the last product with Matt Barlow, was the first great product in ten years. This DVD features three festival appearances (Metalcamp 2008, Rock Hard 2008 and Wacken 2007, the latter featuring Tim Owens on a bad day on vocals), all in the superb quality that Roax Media always stands for. The Metalcamp performance stands out, also by the way it looks, it’s almost a cinematographical highlight among concert registrations. Matt Barlow is divine during these shows and the most stable lineup they had in years (with guitarist Troy Seele, drummer Brent Smedley and bassist Freddie Vidales on band leader and king of US Power Metal rhythm guitar Jon Schaffer’s side) just rocks. That makes ‘Festivals Of The Wicked’ the ideal goodbye for Barlow, despite all the double inclusions. Now all we need is a DVD with Stu Block fronting.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dracula’, ‘The Coming Curse’, ‘Travel In Stygian’, ‘My Own Savior’, ‘A Question Of Heaven’

12. Hypocrisy – Hell Over Sofia

Cool Death Metal DVD! Hypocrisy released a DVD recorded at Wacken over a decade ago, but ‘Hell Over Sofia’ owns that DVD in every aspect. Of course, we’ve come a long way technically since then; the sound is awesome and the picture is beautifully colored, but it also has to do with Hypocrisy’s DVD. With two of the best albums they released behind them (‘Virus’ and ‘A Taste Of Extreme Divinity’), the band is at the top of powerfully stomping Death Metal again. Maybe it has to do with Peter Tägtgren having Pain as an outlet for his more experimental stuff nowadays, I don’t know. Fact is that Hypocrisy played an amazing show for a grateful crowd in Sofia and they’re not ashamed to show it. Neither should they. The documentary included is surprisingly entertaining as well. It’s good to see Hypocrisy doing what they’re good at again. By the way, Hieronymus Bosch called, he wanted his painting back.

Recommended tracks: ‘Warpath’, ‘Roswell 47’, ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Valley Of The Damned’, ‘Eraser’

Album of the Week 03-2012: Anneke van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing

Speechless was I when I heard Anneke van Giersbergen and her new backing band play her new album ‘Everything Is Changing’ at Amsterdam’s Melkweg yesterday. Not only is Anneke as amazing as she ever was, the songs prove that ‘Everything Is Changing’ is the best Arena Rock album since the mid-nineties. Once again, the best singer in Holland (and possibly in the whole world, maybe with the exception of Aretha Franklin) reinvented herself. The album is a new highlight in her already stainless discography.

For ‘Everything Is Changing’, Anneke worked with Portuguese producer Daniel Cardoso, who is apparently a big fan of what Anneke did during The Gathering’s ‘How To Measure A Planet?’/’if_then_else’ era. Coincidentally, so am I. That doesn’t, however, mean that the duo copied that particular sound, but it seems like they’ve taken that basis and injected it with some healthy shots of Arena Rock, Electro-Goth and upbeat Pop music. The result is a bombastic, catchy, danceable and melodic cocktail that is in turns romantic, dark and life-affirming.

Some songs are bound to bring back the Gathering-fans that gave up on Anneke with her Pop and singer/songwriter detour on this album’s predecessor ‘In Your Room’, which was a marvellous album in its own right. Funnily enough, those songs are all located on the second half of the album, which is a sign that the production duo isn’t keen on taking the safe and easy road. And why would they? Their collaboration has proven fruitful, as the enormous amount of variation on the album is overwhelming.

Opening track ‘Feel Alive’ serves as a perfect transition between the “smaller” sounding singer/songwriter approach of ‘In Your Room’ and this album’s big production. Also, the positive mood set with the song just makes you want to hear the rest of the album. Anneke gets plenty of room to shine in the beautiful ballads ‘Circles’ and ‘Everything Is Changing’, there’s a larger than life sense of Arena Rock in ‘You Want To Be Free’ and ‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’, the pounding riffs of ‘Stay’ and ‘Too Late’ and the uptempo Rock sound of ‘Too Late’ are somewhat reminders of Anneke’s harder rocking early days, ‘I Wake Up’ takes the late eighties Goth-Pop to the 21st century and the beautiful closing track ‘1000 Miles Away From You’ brings all of the sounds on the album together.

Daniel Cardoso’s main responsibility on this album seem to be the huge sounding production and mixing up the real drums of Anneke’s husband Rob Snijders with electronic beats, a combination I am usually no fan of, but which works remarkably well here. Also, this album is so multi-layered that the bombast doesn’t wear off like with many of the pompous over-produced efforts that litter radio nowadays. Also, Cardoso’s keyboard parts are remarkably tasteful and well-placed.

And of course, Anneke’s vocals are as divine as ever. It’s hard to find someone with such perfect pitch control and – if you don’t want to get technical – such a moving tone as her. Plus, it’s only commendable if someone refuses to stand still and keeps developing. It’s given us another unbelievable album with her vocals on it. And guess what? They can pull this huge thing off live as well! Go and have a look the forthcoming months if you don’t believe me.

Recommended tracks: ‘You Want To Be Free’, ‘Stay’, ‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’, ‘Slow Me Down’, ‘Take Me Home’

Album of the Week 02-2012: Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones

A dark masterpiece. That’s what Celtic Frost’s swan song ‘Monotheist’ was. Despite liking their music, I was never an outspoken fan of the Swiss legends, but that record made me one. The slow, moody and pitch black dirges on that record were unlike anything I had ever heard before and while it took some time to grow on me, I wished them to continue this road forever once it did. Sadly, a dispute between Thomas Gabriel Fischer and the rest of the band effectively ended Celtic Frost. Fischer, however, quickly formed a new band called Triptykon and released yet another bleak and dark piece of art.

‘Eparistera Daimones’ is bookended by two monstrous tracks of monumental length. ‘Goetia’ (eleven minutes exactly) opens the album where ‘Monotheist’ left off: a long, moody intro builds into a Doom song in which midtempo passages and slow, hypnotizing parts go hand in hand to create the ideal overture to this soundtrack to human despair that won’t show any signs of hope for the hour that’s left after this song.

Almost a third of that hour is taken up by closing track ‘The Prolonging’, which Fischer had written out of his frustration about the demise of his former band. Remarkably, the extended piece doesn’t actually feel like it lasts almost twenty minutes. This song is the perfect example of the almost – for lack of a better term – meta-musical approach of Triptykon, with its long spaces between the notes they play and the guitar feedback that is used to its full atmospheric effect. Though the entire song is overwhelming and amazing, there are two climaxes around which the song seems to be built. First, there is the triumphant “as you perish, I shall live” passage around the nine minute mark and the part right before the extended feedback that closes the song, where the guitars of Fischer and V. Santura create such an intense, powerful layer of harmony and atmosphere, one can’t help succumbing to the atmosphere.

However, there is much more to enjoy than just those two lengthy tracks. ‘Descendant’ sounds closest to conventional Metal with one of the albums few solo sections near the end of the song, ‘Abyss Within My Soul’ – still near ten minutes longs – is a powerful Doom track and ‘A Thousand Lies’ is Fischer’s anger about Celtic Frost’s demise channeled into an aggressive song. On the more experimental side of the album, there’s the fully ambient mood setter ‘Shrine’, the ice cold, keyboards and electronics-led ‘My Pain’ and the slow, brooding epic ‘In Shrouds Decayed’, which seems to work towards a climax that doesn’t come…brilliantly.

Fischer and Santura – who also played with Celtic Frost on their last tour – have found themselves the perfect rhythm section for their unique sound. Norman Lonhard knows exactly when he has to play and when not and when he does, his powerful pounding gives the music exactly the correct amount of driving force. Vanja Slajh is slightly less noticable, because she plays bass with distortion and the guitars are already tuned frighteningly low, but she complements the music perfectly.

Often labelled a Metal record, but equally Avant-Garde (much more so than ‘Into The Pandomonium’), Goth and Ambient, Triptykon’s debut album should appeal to fans of all those genres. ‘Eparistera Daimones’ works best when listened to completely in the dark on headphones. The atmosphere of the music is guaranteed to take you away. Yours truly isn’t responsible for possible nightmares or insomnia, but trust me: it’s worth it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Goetia’, ‘The Prolonging’, ‘Descendant’, ‘Abyss Within My Soul’, ‘In Shrouds Dacayed’

Album of the Week 01-2012: Motörhead – 1916

Last week, Motörhead was played regularly at the Kevy Metal residence. Apparently, it was loud, rude, self-assured heavy Rock ‘n’ Roll that needed to be heard. And no one does that better than Lemmy Kilmister and his men. But Motörhead is also witty. And, if they want, they can definitely profit from a certain subtlety. And nowhere else in the Brits’ discography have all those sides to their collective identity been exposed as brilliantly as on the 1991 album ‘1916’.

As such, I like to see ‘1916’ as Motörhead’s most experimental album. And their most successful experiment as well. As much as I love the basic heavy R’n’R sound of the band, I have always liked them trying out something different. For instance, I think ‘Another Perfect Day’ is one of the band’s best albums, contrary to popular opinion and ‘Orgasmatron’ was interesting at least. However, there’s some kind of consensus about ‘1916’ and that’s probably caused by the consistently powerful songwriting on the album.

‘The One To Sing The Blues’ is probably the second best opening track on a Motörhead album (second only to ‘Overkill’), combining the noisy Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude with riffs that border on Heavy Metal, not unlike the bluesier bands of the NWOBHM. But Motörhead was never a Heavy Metal band and despite songs that are borderline (‘Make My Day’, ‘Shut You Down’), they prove so on this album. There’s some upbeat Rock ‘n’ Roll (‘Going To Brazil’, ‘Angel City’, ‘No Voices In The Sky’), a fitting tribute to a legendary Punk band (‘R.A.M.O.N.E.S.’) and an uncategorizable experiment (‘Nightmare/The Dreamtime’). Hell, even the ballads on the album are stellar, with album highlight ‘Love Me Forever’ containing the second best guitar solos the band has ever put on tape (again, second only to ‘Overkill’) and the title track seeing Lemmy experimenting with strings.

Blaming only the eclectic and carefree songwriting for the level of awesomeness displayed on the album would disqualify the actual performances of the band members. Although Mikkey Dee is a better drummer than Phil Taylor, I think the Lemmy, Würzel, Phil Campbell and Taylor lineup of this album is the best the band has ever had. First of all, two guitars is always better than one and Campbell and Würzel show on this album, feeding off of each other’s strengths and complementing each other. I don’t know who plays which solo, but they all sound impressive. Also, the “we don’t care, we’re doing what we like” attitude seems more present among these guys than any other lineup they have ever had.

‘1916’ should please Rock ‘n’ Roll, Metal and maybe even Punk crowds anytime. There’s no time to grow tired of the band’s basic formula, as they expand on it wildly on the album. But don’t see this album as an attempt to sell out – like its follow-up ‘March Ör Die’ may have been – it’s still all Motörhead. Loud, rude, self-assured, witty and sometimes subtle.

Recommended tracks: ‘Love Me Forever’, ‘Shut You Down’, ‘Nightmare/The Dreamtime’, ‘The One To Sing The Blues’

Best of 2011: The Albums

As much as I dislike the whole sense of fake hosanna surrounding new year’s, there’s one thing I have always loved and that is the end-of-year lists by any music or cultural magazine. Here is my list for this year, which I will break down into albums and DVD’s. Having said that, I do have to state that I thought 2011 was a mediocre year when it comes to new releases for both Metal and Pop music, the latter mainly caused by radio. Seriously people, if Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Alexis Jordan and Coldplay are the best things you can think of, you’re not quite looking good enough. Adele is alright and I even love ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ by Gotye, but playing these songs hundreds of times a day doesn’t exactly add to the listening experience.

Without further ado, here’s part one; the albums:

1. Foo Fighters – Wasting Light

Often criticized for not being “something new”, that’s exactly what’s so good about this album. The Foo Fighters don’t reinvent themselves on this album, they just find a way to do what they’ve always done much better and more streamlined. Melodic and heavy go hand in hand on these album rather than contrasting each other and it is very much a no compromise Rock album. The band sounds inspired and energetic all the way through and in that sense ‘Wasting Light’ is the only good post-nineties example of great Arena Rock. Even the ballads, which have the tendency to drag on Foo Fighters albums, are amazing. Something new or not, ‘Wasting Light’ is Dave Grohl’s most consistently awesome set of songs ever and even surpasses ‘The Color And The Shape’ in that sense.

Recommended tracks: ‘Rope’, ‘Bridge Burning’, ‘Walk’,  ‘I Should Have Known’, ‘White Limo’

2. Vader – Welcome To The Morbid Reich

Death Metal supremacy. Something you won’t hear me say often, but Poland’s ultimate Metal machine shows it’s possible. In an obvious nod to their old days (‘Morbid Reich’ was the demo that made them underground stars in their early years), Piotr Wiwczarek and his men made an album that combines the best of their entire catalog. Usually, I have a preference for their slower material, but even the fullspeed blastbeat assaults (‘Decapitated Saints’) on this album are downright amazing. There’s even more than a few references to traditional Heavy Metal (‘Only Hell Knows’, ‘Don’t Rip The Beast’s Heart Out’) and as such, this is possibly the most complete album Wiwczarek has ever been a part of.

Recommended tracks: ‘Come And See My Sacrifice’, ‘I Am Who Feasts Upon Your Soul’, ‘Black Velvet And Skulls Of Steel’

3. The Answer – Revival

Always an entertaining band, but what the Northern-Irish band does here surpasses even my expectations. ‘Revival’ shows a band that is fully capable to fill the gap left by the sad split of The Black Crowes by playing Bluesy Hardrock with vocals that are full of Soul. The Crowes were definitely more rootsy than this, because what The Answer mainly does is rock and they do it well. ‘Revival’ is easily the band’s best album as they have never sounded as fresh and vibrant. And slightly less heavy than on ‘Everyday Demons’, but that only adds to the general Bluesy Rock ‘n’ Roll swag displayed on the album. Also, Cormac Neeson is one of the few traces of hope I have left that the Soulful Rock singer isn’t a dying breed. Obligated for any fan of Rock music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nowhere Freeway’, ‘Trouble’,  ‘Vida (I Want You)’

4. De Dijk – Scherp De Zeis

Incomprehensible lyrically for those of you who aren’t Dutch (checking out ‘Hold On Tight’, which they recorded with Solomon Burke on vocals is definitely a reccomendation for you), De Dijk’s blend of Blues, Soul and Rock is almost as American as it gets. Especially on ‘Scherp De Zeis’, which is to me their best album they recorded since their classic ‘Niemand In De Stad’ record. I loved its direct predecessor (‘Brussel’), but they traded almost all of their French chançon tendencies for a Soulful Blues swing here. The result is an amazing set of Dutch Rock songs which nobody should miss out on. And for all the foreigners… Get over the lyrics and just give this bit of great music a chance. I don’t understand the lyrics to the African music I listen to either.

Recommended tracks: ‘Laat Het Niet Over Zijn’, ‘Kan Ik Iets Voor Je Doen’, ‘Altijd Bij Me’, ‘De Blues Verlaat Je Nooit’

5. Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

Initially, there was my disappointment that Kate Bush’s six-year gap between the brilliant ‘Aerial’ and this album only resulted in seven songs. Until I saw they lasted 65 minutes together. ’50 Words For Snow’ is easily Kate Bush at her most introspective, with Kate’s piano, her haunting voice and a chilling atmosphere as main ingredients. Most songs can appear meandering for people not into her music, but to the fans of her work, this is a dream-like experience. Especially ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’, the brooding duet with Elton John, is an experience that should require no other activities other than listening to the song. The title track spots another brilliant duet, this time with Stephen Fry, reciting rather than singing. If there’s one thing you can expect from Kate, it’s things that you can’t expect and ’50 Words For Snow’ is no exception.

Recommended tracks: ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’,  ’50 Words For Snow’, ‘Lake Tahoe’

6. For All We Know – For All We Know

Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie also writes stuff of his own and frankly, I like it better than what he actually does with his main band. For All We Know stands for emotional and moody Progrock which isn’t very heavy, but hits very hard nonetheless. Part of this is due to the brilliant find that is singer Wudstik. His heartfelt vocal delivery lifts Jolie’s atmospheric and multi-layered songs to an even higher level. The results are amazing. And there’s no escaping that atmosphere on the album. For the best results, listen to it with the lights dimmed. Recommended…no…a must for fans of Porcupine Tree, Pain Of Salvation (Kristoffer Gildenlöw and Léo Margarit are the album’s rhythm section!) and ‘Brave’-era Marillion.

Recommended tracks: ‘Busy Being Somebody Else’, ‘Down On My Knees’, ‘When Angels Refuse To Fly’

7. Mastodon – The Hunter

The band that is so unique that their sound is undescribable strikes again. Psychedelic Sludge Metal? Maybe… After the psychedelia heaven that was ‘Crack The Skye’, I wondered how they were going to top that. And they didn’t. But what they did is basically the next best thing. Stylistically located between that album and what used to be their second best album ‘Leviathan’, ‘The Hunter’ hits quite hard, but also still has its share of trance-like moments. All combined into one package that is – despite what the description of their sound might make you think – surprisingly digestable. Brann Dailor is by far the best modern Rock/Metal drummer there is and although some have typified his style as hyperactive, I think he does nothing but enhancing the music. And with two killer songs with space puns in their titles (‘Blasteroid’ and ‘Stargasm’), how can you go wrong here?

Recommended tracks: ‘All The Heavy Lifting’, ‘The Hunter’, ‘Dry Bone Valley’, ‘Spectrelight’, ‘Curl Of The Burl’

8. Warren Haynes – Man In Motion

More southern Soul and Blues than anything else, Warren Haynes’ newest solo album is based around his powerhouse vocals rather than his stellar guitar qualities compared to his brilliant main band Gov’t Mule. And it’s both great. Haynes’ second proper solo album (everything that came after ‘Tales Of Ordinary Madness’ consisted of live acoustic albums) is notably different from Gov’t Mule, yet sounds warmly trusted. His backing band – including The Meters’ fabulous George Porter Jr. on bass – is excellent, playing in service of the music and making the extended jams that most songs end up being exciting climaxes. And what can we say about Haynes’ raw, emotional vocals and tastefully Bluesy guitar work that hasn’t been said before? They don’t make them like this anymore too often.

Recommended tracks: ‘River’s Gonna Rise’, ‘Man In Motion’, ‘Hattiesburg Hustle’

9. Arch/Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance

Or “how Jim Matheos needs his former singer to get his edge back”. Jim Matheos teaming up with original Fates Warning singer John Arch is a dream come true for most Prog Metal fans. Original Fates guitarist Frank Aresti, bassist Joey Vera and the mindblowing Bobby Jarzombek on drums complete this dream team. Fates Warning had such a unique sound which had a lot of traditional Heavy Metal influences combined with their complex structures and unconventional rhythms, that even many non-Prog bands were influenced by them. However, ‘Sympathetic Resonance’ isn’t simply a rehash of ‘The Spectre Within’ or the near perfect ‘Awaken The Guardian’, it’s generally much heavier than those classics. John Arch’s voice sounds eerily similar to how it sounded those days though, although he hardly sang in all those years (not counting the ‘Twist Of Fate’ EP). In the end, this fantastic album is much better than anything Fates Warning’s done in recent years and – I can’t emphasize this enough – Bobby Jarzombek is unbelievable.

Recommended tracks: ‘Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)’, ‘Stained Glass Sky’, ‘On The Fence’

10. Iced Earth – Dystopia

If I was still 15 years old and obsessed with these Floridian Power Metal giants, ‘Dystopia’ would have topped this list without a doubt, because it is the first amazing album they released in over a decade. Matthew Barlow’s departure made me careful in expecting a good album, but new singer Stu Block is better than I could ever expect him to be. Also, band leader Jon Schaffer decided to throw the overkill of bombast overboard, focusing on his trade mark high speed palm muted riffs, soaring melodies and powerful choruses instead. The result: pure American Heavy Metal. Also, I have the feeling that Iced Earth is a collective once again, though basically all the music is still written by Schaffer. As childishly fanboyish as I was when I was 15 is in the past, but ‘Dystopia’ is as close as it gets for me now!

Recommended tracks: ‘Dark City’, ‘Iron Will’, ‘Boiling Point’, ‘Dystopia’

11. Loudness – Eve To Dawn

Why any label refuses to release Loudness’ consistently great output outside of Japan is beyond me. Especially when it’s their best studio album since ‘Disillusion’. ‘Eve To Dawn’ combines the modern, almost Thrashy aggression of Loudness’ more recent work with the traditional Heavy Metal melodies and slightly Proggy structures of their early albums. The album’s direct predecessor ‘King Of Pain’, a relatively heavy affair, was already a new highlight in Loudness’ discography, but this album even tops it. New drummer Masayuki Suzuki really shines – I love his style – and guitarist Akira Takasaki is in typical stellar form. Suzuki even gets his first writing credit with the awesome ‘Survivor’. The album even manages to surprise with the unpredictable twists in ‘Comes The Dawn’ and ‘Keep You Burning’. The only dud moment is the closing track ‘Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!’, but furthermore, this is just a killer Metal album. We need more bands like these in Europe, seriously.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Power Of Truth’, ‘Survivor’, ‘Hang Tough’, ‘Come Alive Again’

12. Vektor – Outer Isolation

Debut album ‘Black Future’ made the Arizona Thrashers a sensation. Naysayers criticize them for ripping off Voivod, but though their dissonant chords, unexpected twists and sci-fi themes are obviously inspired by the Canadians, there were obvious Black Metal influences and David DiSanto’s shrieking vocals had a more than passing Sadus resemblance. Above all, the band has a sound that is unique, which is a luxury in the current Metal scene. On ‘Outer Isolation’, the Black Metal influences have been toned down a bit, but the one-of-a-kind sound stays. While not as mindblowing as ‘Black Future’, I like the Thrashed-up version of Vektor, while the overall sound is still spacey. A recommendation for any open minded Metalhead.

Recommended tracks: ‘Tetrastructural Minds’, ‘Outer Isolation’, ‘Venus Project’, ‘Fast-Paced Society’

13. De Staat – Machinery

They have always been a strange animal, with their Dutch name, English lyrics and almost undescribable style. Shreds of Rock, Rap, Electronics, Industrial and even some fake Vaudeville, main songwriter, singer and guitarist Torre Florim never turned down any genre to create a sound that is truly his own. But where ‘Wait For Evolution’ was essentially Florim’s solo record, ‘Machinery’ seems to be a band effort primarily. The album is more conistent, more coherent and above all just better. The rhythm section of drummer Tim van Delft and bassist Jop van Summeren (the rest of the band occasionally bangs some percussion as well) just kills and although I can’t follow where Florim’s mind goes, I do like where it goes. A couple of years ago, I was worried about the state of Dutch music. Now, with bands like De Staat around, it seems there’s nothing to worry about.

Recommended tracks: ‘Old MacDonald Don’t Have No Farm No More’, ‘Sweatshop’, ‘I’m A Rat’, ‘Ah I See’

14. Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction / Ghost

Technically two separate albums, but they were sold together and worked on around the same time span, so I’ll take it as one spot here. ‘Deconstruction’ was supposed to be the heaviest chapter in the DTP story and while it’s not quite as heavy as Strapping Young Lad (though ‘Pandemic’ and ‘Poltergeist’ come close), it’s definitely Dev’s craziest album so far. With a full orchestra and large choir backing him among the usual wall of guitars, samples, multi-layered vocals and humor, the result is almost too overwhelming. Opening track ‘Praise The Lowered’ initially made me think I put on ‘Ghost’, because it’s so mellow. When ‘Ghost’ was announced as the “ambient” album, I expected something like ‘Devlab’ or ‘Hummer’. Luckily, there are actual songs on here. The atmosphere is dreamy, soothing and relaxed. A great contrast between the two albums and that’s exactly what makes Dev’s stuff so great. Not quite as good as the respective equivalents ‘Addicted’ and ‘Ki’, but almost. Also, check out the amazing box set ‘Contain Us’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Juular’, ‘Fly’, ‘Heart Baby’, ‘Planet Of The Apes’, ‘Praise The Lowered’, ‘As You Were’

15. Vieux Farka Touré – The Secret

Tinariwen already released a great album with ‘Tassili’, but guitar prodigy Vieux Farka Touré takes the cake when it comes to Malian music. Guest appearances by Derek Trucks, Dave Matthews and Jon Scofield may draw any western music fan into this album, but the truly redeeming value is Touré’s fret work, which is as virtuoso as it is atmospheric. This is the Sahara sound translated to the 21st century. ‘The Secret’ is definitely Touré’s most guitar oriented studio album and that was a wise decision, as his guitar work is his greatest talent. The most interesting guest appearance comes from his late father Ali Farka Touré; on the album’s title track, father and son jam as if they are trading life experiences. As for me, I can’t help getting sucked into the desolate atmosphere of the Desert Blues, although Touré can be just as life-affirming when he needs to be.

Recommended tracks: ‘Amana Quai’, ‘The Secret’, ‘Lakkal (Watch Out)’, ‘All The Same’

Stay tuned for my DVD list of 2011!

Album of the Week 52-2011: 24-7 Spyz – Strength In Numbers

Don’t tell me you didn’t see this one coming after the last post. ‘Strength In Numbers’ is easily one of my all time favorite albums, because it combines my favorite genres of music in such an exciting and powerful way that it’s impossible to escape. Now, 24-7 Spyz has always been responsible for a fluent fusion of Heavy Metal, Soul, Funk, Hiphop and bits of Reggae, Punk and Ska, it’s just that ‘Strength In Numbers’ is the moment that the New Yorkers outdid themselves.

First of all, ‘Strength In Numbers’ presents the best lineup of 24-7 Spyz. Alongside guitarist Jimi Hazel and bassist Rick Skatore are now drummer Joel Maitoza, who obviously has a background deeper rooted in Hardcore and Metal than his more Punk-Funk based predecessor Anthony Johnson, and the best singer 24-7 Spyz has ever had: Jeff Broadnax. His soulful tone enhances Hazel’s powerfully pounding riffs rather than contrasting them, which makes the already amazing songs downright perfect listening experiences.

You’d have to look no further than the opening track to hear what these guys are all about. ‘Break The Chains’ starts out with some lovely clean guitar strumming, only to turn into a typical New York Hard Rock/Heavy Metal track with rather atypical, but beautiful soaring vocal lines courtesy of Broadnax, paired with some Hardcore styled backing shouts in the chorus. Wonderful guitar solo by the ever brilliant Hazel as well. Check out this song if you don’t know the band and need an introduction.

Basically every song on this album is a winner. 24-7 Spyz is more focused than ever, slightly toning down the Reggae references for a more Soulful Funk Metal type of sound, combined with a lyrical rawness that is typical of the gruff street wisdom that is typical of many underground music from New York, Hiphop, Hardcore and Thrash Metal alike. The band isn’t afraid to tackle subjects such as racism (‘Understanding’, one of the albums few Reggae moments, and ‘Last Call’), drugs (‘Purple’), police discrimination (‘Crime Story’) and record label pressure (‘Stuntman’) with an in-your-face honesty that increases the occasional violence in the musical department.

Still, there’s one song in particular that I’d like to emphasize and that is the sheer Soul/Rock bliss that is ‘Room #9′. Remarkably more positive in tone than the rest of the album – lyrically as well as musically – it’s a song that seems to celebrate music itself. I can’t help but smile upon hearing this song and not singing along is no option. Hazel’s riffs, Skatore’s swinging bass parts, Maitoza’s playful rhythms and Broadnax’ smooth yet powerful vocals…it all just makes sense. This is one of those songs you can’t explain why it’s so damn good, but the music itself says enough.

24-7 Spyz’ forthcoming European tour will take place with this lineup and is centered around this album. Yours truly couldn’t be happier. If you want the perfect introduction to one of the best and most open-minded bands on the planet, ‘Strength In Numbers’ is your album. Wounded Bird released this album combined with the preceding EP ‘This Is 24-7 Spyz’ a few years ago and despite dropping the alternate version of ‘Stuntman’ while retaining the double inclusion of ‘My Desire’, that is a release worth seeking out. I can’t say it any better than the music can: HMS4L!

Recommended tracks: ‘Room #9’, ‘Stuntman’, ‘Break The Chains’, ‘Purple’